Humans who lived 34 thousand years ago in a cave in the Republic of Georgia were making clothing from dyed, woven fibers. Scientists who discovered the fibers say they are the oldest known examples of human-made cloth and rope.
The fibers were made from woven flax, which the paleolithic humans gathered in the wild outside their cave. You can see a few examples of the fibers, above, under the microscope. Some are twisted together, indicating they might have been used in ropes or string. Whatever woven items they were part of have long ago disintegrated, but they left behind distinct impressions in the cave's clay floor - and these impressions were what scientists saw when they examined the clay. Scientists could even discern the dyes used to color the fibers, which would have been created with colors derived from plants.
Says Harvard archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef, who worked on the excavation of the cave:
This was a critical invention for early humans. They might have used this fiber to create parts of clothing, ropes, or baskets-for items that were mainly used for domestic activities. We know that this is wild flax that grew in the vicinity of the cave and was exploited intensively or extensively by modern humans.
He added that the ability to weave cloth and ropes would have given the people who inhabited this cave many advantages. They could have sewn animal hides into shoes, or knitted cloth sacks to carry their belongings in. Either way, cloth would have aided them in staying warm and remaining mobile.
The people who lived in the Georgian cave, pictured here, occupied it for thousands of years over many generations. Along with the 34-thousand-year-old twine, researchers also discovered flax fibers in the cave dating back to 21 thousand and 13 thousand years ago. Bar-Yosef and his colleagues' research is published in Science this week.